Since its Seattle opening in 1998, I have frequented this restaurant often. Usually a favorite, though on a recent Wednesday evening Il Fornaio proved to be disappointing.
I like going into a restaurant at the beginning of the dinner period to watch how and when clientele grows through the evening. At 5 PM, there were few patrons, the room warm, and quiet with soft music. By 5:30, business picked up, by 6:00, the room mostly filled, with only a table or two available, and energy moderate.
Though I had a reservation, staff was unsure where to seat me. It appears that they prefer to seat guests on the perimeter, though that has a street view. I chose to sit in the middle at the perimeter of the bar area. This was a perfect place to people watch, and I had a perfect view of the Space Needle. Furniture, rather than walls divide the room. The bar and dining area are co-joined. A fireplace generates enough heat to warm the room. The furniture is eclectic with both modern and vintage pieces.
Il Fornaio’s dinnertime begins by 5, so presume they are ready for dinner options. I came for the special passport menu (Festal Regionale), which is the offering for a particular region of Italy, and was informed that it was not available until 5:30. Nowhere can you find that information printed. When I mentioned this to the wait staff, I received an “Oh well,” attitude. The resolve offered was if I wanted to order the taste option, then I could get the soup or salad, immediately. Twice I was told this – only offered if I ordered the taste option. What if I didn’t want the taste option, and only wanted the soup or salad? The attitude I perceived was that, “We’re good, and we don’t have to try.” When you’re at the top, or close to it, you need to work even harder to keep that rep.
As it was, I had planned to order the tasting menu, and the wine flight. This option was a 3-course menu and three half-pours of wine. In this way, I had the opportunity to try the wine suggested for each course. They served me fresh bread and olive rolls along with oil and balsamic vinegar, while waiting for the salad.
The first course was a pear salad, to include gorgonzola, pecans, endive, red grapes, and pomegranate dressing, paired with Sauvignon. Good wine pairing of a medium bodied white wine. The salad was ordinary, the red grapes missing, and walnuts used instead of pecans.
It was apparent that my waiter was not attentive to my meal progress, which is important to be considered a good restaurant. I was only half finished with my salad when they served the second course much too soon. I mentioned this, and the server didn’t know what to do, other than leave the dish. I made it clear to hold the third course. I did not expect to be in and out in 30 minutes. When my waiter stopped by with the wine for this second pairing, I mentioned the same. He offered to have the dish redone, if I wanted, and I did. Further, he assured that the third dish was not placed, yet.
The second course was two ravioli filled with roast duck, prosciutto, and cheese, paired with Friulano. This was the best course, though the ravioli did not appear to be new, rather held under a warmer until served for the second time. It was warm enough, and delicious, served with asparagus cream sauce. The Friulano, a dry medium-bodied white wine, was perfect with the ravioli.
The third course was grilled wild sea bass filet, with olives, tomatoes, and capers, paired with Pinot Grigio, a bright medium-bodied white wine. Rather than a tasting, this appeared to be a full size course. Where the bass should have been the focal, there was a mound of mashed potatoes that oversized the fish. Smooth in texture and tasty, they could have been half the portion. There was a similar mound of slightly overcooked spinach. The bass had good texture and offered interesting flavors; a good combination of sweetness with the tomatoes, and tartness with the olives. This was a great pairing with the suggested wine. In addition, it was served at the correct interval after the ravioli.
As time passed, apparent I was making notes my waiter improved his attitude. After returning the ravioli, serving time improved and allowed me time to finish the rest of my meal, which was 90 minutes rather than 30.
I ended the meal with coffee, of which my waiter, being more attentive, offered cappuccino, which I agreed was a perfect end. With several awards and reviews, 2008 was the last year for any noted awards; Seattle received 4th place for Best Italian. For what the evening was, the meal was expensive and rushed. If it was my first visit, I may not return; however, I will count it as an off day, and return in hopes of finding better fair, as I suggest you do as well.
Il Fornaio Restaurant (206-264-0994)
600 Pine Street
Seattle, Washington 98101
Click here for their story